Words from My Brother: The Meaning of Life

David Stoecklein

So we’re almost to another Christmas, another end of another year. It’s not unusual to spend some time reflecting on stuff this time of year, and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.

One of my 5 brothers, Dave, died 6 years ago from leukemia. Seems like yesterday, and seems like forever ago, both at the same time.

Dave was a minister, although I never really thought of him as a minister at all. I always thought of him just as my brother, the brother I was closest to.

Anybody who really knows me now, knows that I have BIG problems with religion. But Dave wasn’t like anyone I ever knew. Yes, he was in ”the church,” but he was the exception, not the rule. He was the example for what to do, instead of what not to do. He was a truly good man.

When he died, Dave’s son (my nephew) put together this video, which was played at his memorial service. And near the end of the video, Dave says something that I have not been able to get out of my head since. I think about it all the time. It’s really the closest I have ever heard anyone come to explaining the meaning of life.

This is the part I can’t get out of my head…

“You’ve got to discipline yourself… that there’s a future, and there’s a future reward. Genuinely care for the people in your web of influence. Discipline yourself, because it’s not all about here and now.”

Maybe the reason I’ve been thinking about that lately is that I recently read something similar in this book, which I think should be required reading for every American, especially white people. But sadly, I know that the people who need to read it most, will never read it.

What I read was this…

“We need white people to take on the role of coconspirators, confronting the issue of racism and oppression in your own circles of influence.”

It’s probably the phrases ”web of influence” and “circles of influence” that caught my eye.

And while the words of Emmanuel Acho and my brother might seem kind of unrelated, I don’t think so. Because when it comes to God, how you treat others, and the things you do in society, I think it’s all related. And it’s not a passive thing. It’s an action thing. The Jesus I’ve read about was never passive and indifferent; he was radical, a champion of people who were oppressed and downtrodden.

So, do I believe in God? I’d have to say I do, although I have no proof whatsoever that I could present to someone who’s an atheist. And I really can’t fault atheists all that much, not when they see religious people spreading hate everywhere.

It’s just that when I see a lot of what goes on with most church people, I don’t necessarily see God.

When I see a TV preacher with gazillions of dollars, private jets, and refusing to use his mega church to give shelter to hurricane victims, I don’t see God.


When I see a video on the internet of someone helping a really old person cross a busy street, I see God.

Via New China TV on YouTube

When I see a nurse who adopted a man’s dog (because he couldn’t keep it), just so that she could take it to the hospital for him to visit him while he went through rehabilitation, I see God. Read about it here…

When I find out about someone like Leah Lizarondo, who created an app (@FoodRescueHero on Twitter) that connects people with surplus foods to families and non-profits who need it (saving more than 70 million pounds of food from going to waste), I see God.

And when I watched my brother interact with people in all kinds of situations, I saw God.

I wish I had the kind of power to change society with the snap of my fingers. If I could do whatever I wanted, I’d make healthcare and education free for everyone. I’d make sure nobody went hungry. I’d revolutionize the court system to make it fair, and I’d actually hold rich white people just as accountable as everyone else.

But I don’t have ultimate power, and I can’t change the system with a snap of my fingers. But what I can do, what I have control over, is how I treat people in my ”web of influence.”

It might be family, friends, or complete strangers. It might be caring for someone in a really big way, or in a really small way.

What I do know is that there are opportunities all the time. Like my brother said, you have to discipline yourself. You have to watch for those opportunities. You have zero control over what someone else does daily, but you have complete control over what you do.

I don’t know how many days or years I have left on this planet. I mean, let’s face it, my family doesn’t exactly have a good track record for longevity. What am I going to do with those days and years? Well, I’ll tell you one thing. You won’t see me back in church doing any churchy things, but I sure am going to do my best to try to have a positive daily impact on those within my “web of influence.” Knowing me, I’ll probably screw up way more than I succeed, but I’ll keep trying.

And a lot of that has to do with the fact that I was in my brother’s web of influence. He had a huge influence on me. Even 6 years after his death, he continues to influence me. And he’ll continue to have a positive influence me for the rest of my life.

P.S. I miss my brother. I mean, I REALLY miss my brother.

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